In Kate Winslet’s new film, she plays the mother of a teenage girl – played by her own daughter Mia Threapleton – who struggles with issues related to what appears to be a cell phone addiction.
I am Ruth is part of Channel 4‘s I Am series – a female-led drama anthology of stand-alone programs, developed and written by director Dominic Savage in conjunction with each film’s lead actress.
The subject of Winsletis particularly prescient at the moment, with the controversy Online security bill make the headlines during his visit to parliament. It aims to protect young people following the death of teenagers, including Molly Russelldied after viewing content about suicide and self-harm in 2017.
Like all parents, the Oscar-winning star worries about her own children’s relationship with technology.
“We all do – my youngest is about to turn nine and I worry,” she told Sky News. “But it’s very, very hard, isn’t it, as a parent? Saying ‘No, you can’t have that, hey, stop watching that, don’t watch that’ – because were I do.
“Social media has always worried me – I think it has tremendous benefits for some people, but you have to be pretty tough, I think, to know how to use it wisely and carefully.”
Winslet believes the pandemic has exacerbated problems that already existed for children.
“I think young people, especially because of COVID, it’s gotten really out of control – the loneliness and the insecurity and just building a base level of self-esteem for so many of these kids. During COVID, that self-esteem, they were kind of looking for almost online somehow, and that’s desperately sad.
“And I think everyone can, in some way or another, resonate with that story, and that idea resonates with most parents today who have teenagers — it’s incredibly difficult.”
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“None of us, as parents, have a textbook”
I Am Ruth sees Winslet’s character, Ruth, clearly unprepared for how to deal with her daughter as she retreats, refusing to speak to her mother or arguing with her on the rare occasions she leaves her room.
The actress hopes that viewers will be able to recognize certain aspects of the characters or what they are going through. “It’s important to me to create space for people to talk about things that are really uncomfortable,” she said.
“Sometimes I’m aware that being a bit in the public eye and being someone who has a bit of history with hopefully inspiring women and making women feel celebrated and seen and doing part of a larger conversation I was aware that in doing something like this we had to get it really right because hopefully people will watch and listen and feel that they can start to open up and having these conversations.
“So I really felt the responsibility. It was never a burden, but I just felt that we had to do it really well. Like the character’s appearance, for example, we couldn’t dress it, we had to go quite the opposite.
“And also putting that in a middle class world was really important to me – I told Dominic [Savage]we can only do that if we don’t put it in a low socio-economic environment, because I feel like a lot of times when stories like this are told on TV or in the movies, they usually unfold in a lower class environment and I don’t think that’s right, and I don’t think that’s right now.
“I think it’s the middle classes who struggle and have these issues and I think it takes their breath away and none of us as parents have a playbook. Sometimes we look at our kids in the eyes and just think, ‘oh, my God, I don’t know what to do’.”
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“We know how to push the buttons”
The film was built around improvisation; the actors discussed the scenes before filming but there was no demanding script. With Winslet and her daughter acting together, she says there were times when the fictional story tipped into reality.
“There would always have been an inevitable crossover zone just because we’ve all been through something with our kids. And obviously when you put Mia and I together, we know how to push each other’s buttons and didn’t have not afraid to raise our voices to each other, even if it’s a really uncomfortable thing to do.”
The lines between reality and drama were also blurred in other parts of the production, giving the film a unique authenticity.
“There’s a scene in I Am Ruth where we sit down with a doctor who was actually a real doctor, who was actually called Doctor Susie, and it was really her surgery. And the first time that Mia and I met her was when the cameras were rolling and we walked into that room, so it was a really real visceral experience for both of us.
“But when she says I’m going to be referred to CAMHS [children and adolescent mental health services]my character says “I don’t know what it is” – because some people don’t.
“I think giving that bit of education, throwing things into the conversation and hopefully making people feel like they’re not alone – it’s a story that resonates, [parents] are sick of their kids being obsessed and addicted to their phones, and at the same time not knowing how to deal with it.”
Developing this story and producing his hit drama Mare of Easttown, Winslet seems to be prioritizing his career away from the camera as much as his acting.
“As a woman in your 40s, women often think this is when we start to swoon and decline a bit – NO, you become more female, more powerful, more important, your voice is louder – go out and use the…
“It’s a completely different ballgame because you’re constantly juggling everything, being aware of what’s going on, on set all the time and making sure everyone’s happy, plus playing the character and raising the funding – that’s a lot, but the sense of achievement is huge and always wanting to tell stories with some degree of integrity and certainly truth is absolutely paramount to me.”
I Am Ruth will air later on Channel 4 and will be available on the All4 catch-up service
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